Archive

June 10th, 2016

Swiss rejection shouldn't doom basic income

    Nobody expected the conservative Swiss to approve the idea of a hefty monthly payout to everyone in the country without exception. The proposal for a universal basic income (UBI) -- a monthly payout of $2,560 (2,500 francs) -- was rejected by 77 percent of Swiss voters in Sunday's referendum, just as their government recommended.

    That's a shame because the idea of a UBI is not necessarily utopian; it just may be a bit before its time. With a less hasty, radical approach, it might still gain traction.

    The issue is now politically dead in Switzerland for many years to come; and its opponents want to put the idea to rest for good. "The organizers wanted a vote of principle," Socialist politician Jean Chistophe Schwaab tweeted after the results came in. "So it's the principle of UBI that has been summarily rejected."

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Muhammad Ali is the greatest counter to Trump

    It's just a twist of fate, of course, that "the Greatest" should die in the middle of Donald Trump's misbegotten campaign to Make America Great Again. But humans get a kick out of coincidence, and History indulges us time and again.

    Muhammad Ali, once America's most famous braggart, embodied much of what the Trump campaign has been organized to denigrate, delegitimize and contest. Ali's incessant claims of greatness were gigantic. They had to be: He was inflating millions of bruised and depleted egos in addition to his own.

    Trump is America's most famous braggart now. He's a great businessman. He makes great deals. He'll be "the greatest jobs president God ever created." In his own way, Trump may even imagine his self-administered superlatives performing a similar service to Ali's, raising up a broken and battered people while advancing himself.

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In remembrance of Muhammad Ali, let's not forget his true legacy

    It is common for archaeologists to find in the graveyards of African slaves in the Americas objects from their tortured lives. For the burial place became one of the few places where enslaved Africans could lay bare who they were and from whence they came.

    The immediate wake of the death of Muhammad Ali reminds that he - the progeny of Dinah, his great-great grandmother who was a slave - must be, like his ancestors, so memorialized.

    With the announcement from the World Boxing Association on Sept. 14, 1964, that it was defrocking him of the world heavyweight championship he'd won earlier that year against Sonny Liston because of his conversion to Islam, rejection of his given name Cassius Clay as, he said, a "slave name," and openly taking counsel from the militant Malcolm X.

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How Muhammad Ali transformed the image of Islam

    Boxing made Muhammad Ali famous, but his conversion to Islam -- and the meaning the world attached to it -- made him a global historical figure. Ali's conversion came to be understood as an act of transnational identification with the oppressed wretched of the earth. And through Ali, Islam itself was symbolically transformed for many observers from a conservative, quietist faith to a force for radical protest against Western power.

    This remarkable story says more about Islam in the last half-century than it does about Ali personally. Nevertheless, there remains something truly astonishing about how the first African-American athlete to achieve global celebrity could make that celebrity into a platform for religio-political activism, not patriotism or consumerism.

    When Ali was publicly accepted into the Nation of Islam in 1964, that remarkable movement was doubly peripheral. The numerically tiny Nation was very much at the margins of American religious life. In theological and social terms, it was almost completely alien to international Islam in its various mainstream forms.

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Hillary Clinton's long, hard climb to the top of the ticket

    Hillary Clinton has been part of our national consciousness for so long that it is easy to forget how far she has pushed the edges.

    It is not just that she has made history by becoming the first woman to claim the presidential nomination of a major party. Hillary -- known on a first-name basis, both by her fervent supporters and by those who despise her -- has been the avatar of a different way of thinking about women and what they can do.

    Hers was an earnest generation of feminists who decided that nothing was beyond them. They could choose their careers, build unshakable marriages and raise nearly perfect children. They could go out and change the world, yet still be there for their friends.

    A younger Hillary once said: "There is no formula that I'm aware of for being a successful or fulfilled woman today. Perhaps it would be easier . . . if we could be handed a pattern and cut it out, just as our mothers and grandmothers and foremothers were. But that is not the way it is today, and I'm glad it is not."

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'Fix' the U.S. political system at your own risk

    It's rare that President Barack Obama and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus agree. In recent weeks, they both have said that the presidential nominating process is not rigged.

    They are right. That hasn't stopped those displeased with the results -- establishment Republicans and Democrats who support Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders -- from insisting on changing the rules for the next election.

    Some tweaks are always in order, but both sides are trying to craft procedures that would have worked to their benefit this time. Like generals fighting the last war, experience shows this rarely works and often backfires.

    "Every time someone tries to game out this system," says Benjamin Ginsberg, the leading Republican election lawyer, "the great law of unintended consequences rears its head."

    For the 2016 elections, Republicans wanted to compress the initial primaries and limit debates so that an establishment favorite -- Jeb Bush for most --- could wrap up the nomination early. Concurrently, conservatives insisted on the early Southern contests -- what became known as the SEC primary -- to better ensure victory for an ideologically suitable candidate.

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Clinton still talks about aliens, and that's good

    Among the underappreciated oddities of the 2016 election is that Hillary Clinton keeps talking about aliens. On the radio, in newspaper interviews, on late-night TV, she and her surrogates are vowing to "go into those files" and "get to the bottom of it." What she wants to get to the bottom of is Roswell, UFOs, Area 51 -- you know, the whole thing.

    It's a weird idea to campaign on. And no one is quite taking it seriously. (Almost no one, anyway.) But she's right. Getting to the bottom of things is a sensible ambition for a president. And those things, those archetypes of American paranoia, have resisted analysis for too long.

    White House aspirants have been mentioning them for a while, of course. Gerald Ford, as a congressman, asserted that "the American public deserves a better explanation" of UFOs. Jimmy Carter actually saw a UFO (he even filed the paperwork) and vowed to expose what the government knew if elected. Clinton's husband claimed that he asked around about secret files but no one would tell him anything. (They never do.)

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California and Trump's war on the press and the judiciary

    As California and four other states hold presidential primaries today (Tuesday), Hillary Clinton is expected to accumulate a majority of pledged delegates to claim the Democratic nomination, along with unpledged super-delegates promised to her.

    But rival Sen. Bernie Sanders, hoping for an upset in the Golden State that might persuade enough of the super-delegates to switch to him, is vowing to take their fight into next month's national convention. His persistence injects a distraction at a time Clinton is trying to pivot to engaging presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump for the fall campaign.

    In California, 475 pledged delegates are at stake, allocated by congressional district, and Clinton, according to the Politico tracking, needs only 23 more for the majority. It's considered likely she will pick up that many in the earlier voting New Jersey primary, where the polls will close while they are still open in California.

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An Obama Nominee’s Crushed Hopes

    In early 2014, after decades of government and nonprofit work that reflected a passion for public service, Cassandra Butts got a reward — or so she thought. She was nominated by President Barack Obama to be the next United States ambassador to the Bahamas.

    It wasn’t an especially high-profile gig at the crossroads of the day’s most urgent issues, but it was a longstanding diplomatic post that needed to be filled, and she had concrete ideas about how best to do the job.

    “She was very excited,” her sister, Deidra Abbott, told me.

    The Senate held a hearing about her nomination in May 2014, and then … nothing. Summer came and went. So did fall. A new year arrived. Then another new year after that.

    When I met her last month, she’d been waiting more than 820 days to be confirmed. She died suddenly two weeks later, still waiting. She was 50 years old.

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A Q&A on Clinton, politics and 'predistribution'

    Hillary Clinton's website lists 31 alphabetized policies on everything from Alzheimer's disease to workforce skills, each with its own 10-point plan. It's wonky, to be sure. But does it add up to a governing philosophy?

    Republicans say no, that Clinton is only offering a bunch of free stuff to Hispanics, blacks, women, gays and other special interests to buy votes. Bernie Sanders says she doesn't do nearly enough to redistribute income.

    Political scientist Jacob Hacker sees the question differently. Known for having coined the "public option" idea as part of the Obamacare debate, the Yale professor more recently came up with the concept of "pre-distribution," which aims to design government programs to spread economic power and rewards more widely. To Hacker, when Clinton talks about paying for family leave, improving skills, lifting wages, helping parents with college tuition and regulating shadow banks, she's being more holistic than she gets credit for.

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